LANGUAGE: English; French-African-English dialect
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Protestantism; Hinduism; Christian-African sects
Grenada was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1498, although he never landed there. The Caribs who inhabited the island drove off all settlers, both English and French, for more than one hundred and fifty years. In 1650 a French party succeeded in acquiring the island from the Caribs in exchange for knives, trinkets, and brandy. Having gained a foothold, they systematically killed most of the native population. Forty of the last Caribs on the island leaped to their death in a mass suicide at La Morne des Sauteurs, or "Leapers' Hill." Grenada became a British possession under the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. Independence was granted by Great Britain in 1974.
In 1979 the country's leader was overthrown. The new prime minister, Maurice Bishop, formed a Marxist government that established close ties with Cuba and other communist countries. In October 1983, a faction of the revolutionary government ousted Bishop, who was killed along with several of his associates. A week later, U.S. troops, together with forces from other Caribbean nations, subdued the military council that had seized power, imprisoning its leaders and removing the Cuban military presence from the island.
Since the 1983 invasion, Grenada has moved closer politically to the United States, which provided the nation with disaster relief and long-term economic aid and technical assistance. The international airport at Point Salines, begun under the Bishop government, was completed with U.S. aid, and much of the country's infrastructure was repaired and modernized.
Grenada is the most southerly of the Wind-ward Islands and is known for the beauty of its lush and fertile land. Its nickname is "the Isle of Spice" because of the nutmeg (one third of the world's supply), cloves, mace, and other spices grown there. In addition to its main island, the country has two dependencies—Petit Martinique and Carriacou—and a number of smaller islets. Grenada is one of the smallest independent nations in the Western Hemisphere. The three main islands have a total area of 133 square miles, a little less than twice the size of Washington, D.C.
The main island is green and hilly and has a mountain range that divides it in half. The interior also contains rain forests, waterfalls, crater lakes, and many rivers and streams. The coastal land has swamps, woodlands, and fertile plains.
Grenada's total population is estimated to be 100,000 people with about 90,000 living on the main island. The population is predominantly rural. About one-third live in urban areas. About 85 percent of Grenada's population is of African descent, while 11 percent have mixed black and white ancestry. The rest of the population is divided between Asians (mostly East Indians) and whites.
English is the official language of Grenada, but many Grenadians speak patois, a dialect that combines English words with elements of French and African languages.
Animals from the jungles of Africa play a prominent role in the popular anancy tales. In these stories, beasts frighten or trick their enemies, sometimes by taking on the shapes of human beings. One example is the story "King Cat," in which rats are invited to a party to celebrate the pretend death of a famous rat-catching cat, who suddenly pounces on them and eats them all except for a pregnant female who lives on to perpetuate the "rat race."
While belief in supernatural creatures is less common in Grenada today than in the past, the creatures live on in the region's Carnival figures and still appear as characters in bedtime stories. The name of one such creature—the zombie, or walking dead—has become a commonly used word in the United States. In African lore, zombies were dead people brought back to life to do the bidding of voodoo priests.
Popular folk remedies include drinking a tea made from lime bush leaves for an upset stomach, and a preparation made of mango leaves for treating rheumatism. Compresses made from the leaves of certain plants may be applied to the forehead to treat fevers.
About 65 percent of Grenadians are Roman Catholic. Most of the rest belong to Protestant denominations which include Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Baptist. Most of Grenada's small Indian population is Hindu. Shango, a traditional African religion, is still practiced, generally in combination with Christian beliefs. African religious practices are especially prominent on the small island of Carriacou. The mingling of Christian and African traditions can be seen in the island's boat-christening ceremonies, which combine holy water, sacrificial goats, and African-derived Big Drum music.
Grenada's public holidays are New Year's Day (January 1), Independence Day (February 7), Good Friday and Easter Monday (March or April), Labor Day (May 1), Whit Monday (May or June), Corpus Christi (June), the August holidays on the first Monday and Tuesday of August, Carnival (mid-August), Thanksgiving (October 25), and Christmas (December 25 and 26).
The country's most important festival is Carnival. In Grenada, this celebration is held in August instead of the usual pre-Lenten time to avoid conflicting with the Grenadian Independence Day. Carnival begins with a Sunday night celebration leading into the Jouvert (jour ouvert– opening day ) festivities at dawn on Monday, which feature Djab Djab Molassi, who represent devils ( Djab Djab is derived from diable, the French word for "devil"). These merrymakers streak their faces and bodies with grease or molasses, which they delight in smearing on bystanders.
Another traditional festival is Fisherman's Birthday, celebrated on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul at the end of June. It involves a ritual blessing of nets and boats, boat races, and food and dancing.
Major transitions in life, such as birth, marriage, and death, are noted with religious ceremonies appropriate to each Grenadian's particular faith community.
Grenada's history of British colonization is shown in many of its customs, such as driving on the left side of the road and an occasional "tea party"which is usually a fundraising event.
While poverty does exist on Grenada, few people are hungry thanks to its fertile farmlands. Most Grenadians own land on which they can grow crops to feed their families. Whatever is left is sold at markets. Housing ranges from wooden shacks with tin or iron roofs among the poorer villages to the attractive, brightly painted bungalows of those who can afford them. Signs of urban poverty found in other developing countries, such as shantytowns (makeshift houses clustered in unsanitary villages around urban areas), are rarely seen. Average life expectancy in Grenada is seventy years.
The residents of Grenada depend upon narrow, winding roads, many of which are not paved, to get around. Most residents do not own cars and rely on bus transportation.
Many Grenadians live in extended-family households, which may include up to three generations. Grandparents commonly help raise children, although day-care facilities are available for working mothers. Older family members, when not actually part of the household, usually live only a short distance from their children. The elderly rely on their children to look after them.
It used to be common for a family to have as many as ten children. With more widespread use of birth control and more women working outside the home, the average number of children in a family dropped to four or five in the 1980s, and the country actually had a negative population growth rate between 1985 and 1992. Part of this negative growth rate was due to emigration.
Grenadians wear modern Western-style clothing. Women often wear straw or cloth hats for protection from the sun.
The cuisine of Grenada reflects a variety of influences: Amerindian, African, French, British, and East Indian. Foods commonly found at the market include yams, avocados, callaloo greens (similar to spinach), oranges, papayas (called "paw-paws"), plantains, mangoes, and coconuts. Many fruits are available year-round.
About twenty different kinds of fish are caught off the coasts. Both fish and chicken dishes are served at many meals. Popular Caribbean staples include pigeon peas and rice, and "callaloo," a dish made from callaloo greens, okra, salted pork, crab, and fresh fish. The dish most closely identified with Grenada is "oildown," a mixture of salted pork and breadfruit steamed in coconut milk. Another favorite is "turtle toes," a combination of ground lobster, conch, and other seafood shaped into balls and deep fried.
Popular beverages include locally brewed beer; rum punch spiced with lime juice, syrup, and grated nutmeg; "mauby," a soft drink made from the bark of the maubi tree; and cocoa tea made from cocoa beans and spices steeped in hot milk.
The adult literacy rate in Grenada is more than 90 percent. All children are required to attend school for twelve years. The average primary school has one teacher for every twenty-eight pupils, about the same as other developing nations. Higher education is offered at the T. A. Marryshow Community College and University Center which is a branch of the University of the West Indies. Recently, St. George's University began offering baccalaureate degree programs at its school of arts and sciences.
Grenadian authors first came to public attention in the 1920s and 1930s. One of the nation's best-known contemporary writers is Wilfred Redhead, author of one-act plays and short stories. The visual arts reflect a high degree of African influence, and Grenada's artists are mostly self-taught. Canute Caliste, who lives on Carriacou, is one of the most prominent. His paintings show traditional life on the island, including Carnival bands, boat-launchings, dance festivals, and Big Drum performances. Many of his works include handprinted texts.
Another well-known artist is Elinus Cato, whose brightly painted renderings of town and rural life in Grenada have been exhibited in London and Washington, D.C. One of his paintings, People at Work, was presented to Queen Elizabeth II when she toured Grenada in 1985. The wooden frame for Cato's painting was crafted by renowned Grenadian woodcarver Stanley Coutain, one of the country's leading sculptors. Other recognized masters who transform the island's mahogany, teak, and cedar into works of art include Alexander Alexis and John Pivott.
Between 30 and 40 percent of Grenadians are employed by the government or work in a service industry job. About the same percentage work in agricultural jobs, often in the food processing industry. Typical food processing jobs include peeling nutmeg shells and sorting the seeds, and washing bananas and other produce.
The remainder of jobs in Grenada are mostly in construction and manufacturing. The country has a standard eight-hour work day. Grenada had a high rate of unemployment in the 1990s, with about one-fourth of the workforce unemployed.
Cricket is Grenada's most popular sport, and there is a large stadium at Queen's Park, outside the capital city of St. George's. Grenadians will start a game on any available flat area, even at the beach. Soccer, which they call football, is another favorite sport.
Calypso and steel drum music are both popular forms of entertainment in Grenada. The nation's television station, a division of Grenada Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), airs local news, sports, and covers local entertainment like Carnival, as well as broadcasting programs from the United States. There are also a number of privately owned and operated radio and televisions stations.
The native music of Grenada is Big Drum music. Derived from the African call-and-response tradition, it consists of song, dance, and drumming. Although its roots are similar to those of calypso and reggae, it is more authenticly African. The Big Drum is actually a set of three drums, originally carved from trees and later made of rum kegs. The skin of male goats is used for the two side drums and the skin of a female goat for the middle one. The middle drum, which has pins threaded across its surface, produces the most complicated rhythms.
The singers are usually women, and the lead singer is called a "chantwell." The lyrics are usually satirical, making fun of governing figures or social customs. Dancing is performed inside a ring of people by dancers wearing full skirts and headdresses and who interact with the musicians. Big Drum music is performed on Carriacou at religious ceremonies including weddings and funerals.
Woven handicrafts include hats, purses, baskets, placemats, and other items made from straw, bamboo, and wicker. Salad bowls, kitchen utensils, furniture, and other items are made of mahogany and red cedar. Jewelry is made from black coral and turtle shells.
Poverty in Grenada increased in the 1980s due to the worldwide recession. Unemployment is high, and there was an increase in labor disputes in 1995.
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